The new government has been warned by universities not to risk a teacher supply crisis by solely pursuing a schools-led training system, after being left frustrated in their attempts to help alleviate the problem.
James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers, said that although the sector was broadly supportive of the previous government’s schools-led philosophy, it was the universities sector that “delivers on numbers, particularly during periods of teacher shortage”, and he called on the government to “make sure [that the HE] infrastructure is maintained”.
The comments come as universities wait to find out whether the new Conservative majority administration will continue the coalition government’s shift towards more training places being allocated to schools, which critics argue has failed to keep pace with the demand for new staff.
John Howson, honorary Norham fellow in the department of education at the University of Oxford, said if the School Direct training route “fails to recruit to the same extent as higher education”, there could be severe consequences.
“We cannot afford to turn away people who want to be teachers just because of the whim of a school,” he said. “People have to understand this is a training programme for the benefit of people going through it who we want to enter the teaching profession.”
John Cater, vice-chancellor of Edge Hill University, suggested that the government should be wary of believing in one “preferred route” to qualified teacher status, if it is not the one the market prefers.
He also warned that if universities are not awarded the places to train teachers, they may reconsider where they invest their resources.
“I’ve got enormous amounts of resource tied up in the Faculty of Education, and I will always want to be heavily involved in teacher training,” he said. “However, universities have a choice: they can take undergraduates on a range of other programmes, with no cap, and they don’t have to necessarily put their teacher education courses at the front of that queue.”
A Department for Education spokesman said that School Direct was “proving hugely popular with schools and teachers, with record numbers of requests” for places. But he added that “the role of universities in delivering teacher training places continues to be crucial – seven out of 10 School Direct places in 2014-15 are partnerships between schools and higher education institutions”.